Horror writers just write about what they’re afraid of! I have a moderately debilitating chronic illness and a long standing, deeply ingrained fear of diseases like cancer and the such inborn from the usual childhood experiences with relatives who die quickly and traumatically from things usually portrayed in the media as slow moving. It’s difficult for me to conceive of any story concept without a healthy dollop of body horror and this particular flavour of powerlessness creeps into most of my writing. I also — as someone who studied modern war history in their academic life — have put a lot of thought into the issue of hierarchical violence. I’m not interested in revenge fantasies, but I am just as interested in the psychological effect of committing violence as I am in how it feels to experience it. Because, you know, I am a very small woman and I am sometimes terrified of violence and inhabiting its skin makes for powerful, honest writing I’ve found.

I’m interested in the stories of “powers” as a burden, or something monstrous, absent of all the asinine (and often belittling to real life marginalized groups) trappings of “people with powers as an oppressed minority”, and I’m interested in how transformation and transgression affect people who are more like me. In other words, every tortured white male anti-hero would be much better as someone who actually experience systemic oppression and violence. Privileged versions of these narratives tend to focus on re-affirming lofty virtues, social structure and responsibility and there are very good versions of that narrative, but I’m more interested in what these stories look like from the bottom, and what they do to characters on an intimate, psychological and philosophical level. No moralizing: just fragile, messy human emotions.

Jennifer Giesbrecht
Interviewed by Andrea Johnson
Apex Magazine 6tth July 2016

The urge to write

April 18, 2019

“The incurable disease of writing,” the Roman poet, Juvenal, called it. “Many suffer from” it, he notes. There is in fact a term used by mental health professionals for extreme cases of the need to write, “hypergraphia.” It’s usually applied to people who have a severe mental illness, they literally can’t stop writing, and who often include drawings in their scribblings. Hypergraphia is associated with epilepsy and temporal lobe disorder.

But it’s an open question whether that clinical term can be applied to prolific writers like Edgar Alan Poe, or Dostoevsky, or Isaac Asimov, or in contemporary times, Joyce Carol Oates, (who has published 40 novels, plus novellas, volumes of short stories, poetry, plays and non-fiction.) Notably, Oates has said that she is able to write when she’s in the car—when someone else is driving—and even when she’s got the flu.

For some of us the need to write is so profound that if we can’t do it we are quite miserable. Yet the life of the writer is mined with struggle and disappointment. “Ever tried. Ever failed,” Samuel Beckett wrote. “No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”That about sums it up for some of us. The professional writers’ life is not necessarily a happy one—our personal happiness, if possible, is usually achieved through friends, lovers, spouses, children, pets, sex, a good meal, a stiff drink. Happiness from writing does come momentarily when an agent calls to tell us she’s sold a novel. But even that happiness is often followed by a year—or a year and a half!—of anticipation and worry—will the novel get good reviews? Will it get reviewed at all? Will it sell! Then comes the day of publication, and another moment of happiness—the nice book party and the congratulations of family and friends. But that’s perhaps three hours’ worth of happiness, and then… on we go.

Dinitia Smith

Writing and Madness

Most writers can’t make a living writing. This surprises some people. In fact, since I started doing the research for this piece and have been able to throw around specific figures regarding likely incomes, I have flummoxed more than a few people, who seem to think that writers get paid millions to lounge about in their pyjamas and slippers, or at least can afford groceries like most normal folks.

It’s estimated that fewer than 1000 fiction writers in North America make a living from their writing…

[and] income from writing is back loaded. That is, you write the book, edit the book, wait for the book to be published  (which can take up to two years after it has been accepted)  do publicity for the book and often start a second book without seeing much more payment than the first half of your advance. So, unless you have another source of income or a supportive spouse, that’s two to three years of living off of Kraft Dinner and cat food in a tent with no evening gowns in sight.

Jennifer Ellis
Making a living as a writer

I’m talking about language, the literal lexicon of narcissism that poets often seem to come up against, in this or that assigned guise — be it ‘confessional’ or ‘objectivist’ or ‘language’ poetries — in the attempt to make something fresh and ‘original’ from the tones and conclusions threaded inside an inherited language we admire and take for granted — the drama of self-consciousness, pitting the presumed “self” against history and in company with one’s contemporaries. Seeking or doubting one’s place in the reconfiguration of meaning as it is carried forward in alphabet and syntax — perhaps we allow too powerful a klieg light to be trained on our most private moments of privilege.

Kathleen Fraser
Letters to Poets: Kathleen Fraser and Patrick Pritchett


January 18, 2019

Writing is in some way being able to sit down the next day and go through everything you wanted to say, finding the right words, giving shape to the images, and linking them to feelings and thoughts. It isn’t exactly like a social conversation because you aren’t giving information in the usual sense of the word or flirting or persuading anyone of anything or proving a point; it’s more that you are revealing something whole in the form of a character, a city, a moment, an image seen in a flash out of a character’s eyes. It’s being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment. It is a deeply satisfying feeling.

Mary Gaitskill
Inside the writer’s mind

shamanic anatomy

January 12, 2019

To me a good poem is like a sacred mind-altering substance: you take it into your system, and it carries you beyond your ordinary ways of understanding. I call the nonconceptual elements of a poem — the rhythm, the sound, the images — the “shamanic anatomy.” Like a shaman’s drum, the beat of a poem can literally entrain the rhythms of your body: your heartbeat, your breath, even your brain waves, altering consciousness. Most poems are working on all these levels at once, not just through the rational mind

Kim Rosen
Written On The Bones
Interview with Alison Luterman, December 2010


April 14, 2018

Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.

W H Auden
The Dyer’s hand and other essays

something not quite right

September 8, 2017

8 th September

Evening peels the clothes from women’s bodies
until at last their soul’s revealed
the smile locked up inside
Clothed a dream dangles from a hanger
Lips whisper in the shadows
Hands slide from walls
and entwine at the ankles of desire
while the evening uninvites
the thorns of the day


There’s something terribly onanistic about the act of creative writing (creative anything, in truth!). At best it’s hard. But if you are forced to it for survivals sake, if it’s not something you WANT to do in the first place, then that certainly defines hell on earth.


Her hands are cold
and she smells, not of talc,
but of something not quite right.
She pulls me against her beads,
hugs me for ages,
then stares her lilac eyes
straight in my face.

These creatures, once women, perhaps, dance on the moor at night. They tempt the careless traveler: the backpacker camping for the night, the loving couple exchanging caresses near the stream – all are potential prey! They have no fear, these night things, and will plunge into the abyss without thought. They can transform themselves into night birds and fly back out again or cross the dimensions if they so wish.

Their smiles are deadly.

And from their icy gaze there is no escape –